Isaiah 49: 1-7 (2017)
Psalm 40:1-11 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 John 1:29-42
Last week our focus scripture was the Baptism of Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew. Today from John’s Gospel we have heard again about Jesus’ baptism but more of a prelude to the call of discipleship for each and every one of us – that we may learn from Jesus and serve Jesus.
When we reflect on our own baptisms – irrespective of when that happened, the baptism service reminds us – that we are named and called members of the Body of Christ.
With that in mind – the question that challenges us today – has to be “What does it mean to be called and named by God, and how do we identify and confirm that call – and then to be all that we are and can be for Jesus?
Often most as some point will struggle with the thought of being called by God – not necessarily just those called to be leaders in the church or in service elsewhere like overseas – but generally we can all struggle with the thought of being called and there are reasons for this.
Most of us feel that we are pretty ordinary sort of people and that if God needs something done then because we are ordinary people we think that this call, his call will go a different direction – that it is to somebody else and not me.
We too often feel that we don’t have the right credentials.
So today I want to confirm for you how God does call people like us – ordinary people without special credentials or qualifications, and to do this I want to use our focus passage from Isaiah 49.
The open 2 verses mention our development or preparation as people, but also our calling before we were even born – and for me it is shown – Firstly in the words – The Lord hides the servant in the shadow of his hand.
This hiding refers to Gods preparation in our lives, a time when he supernaturally feeds and strengthens us, both physically and spiritually. This often happens in our natural surroundings and sometimes we do not even notice. It’s like those times when God prepares us for something and we only discover our preparation after the event or when we look back over our lives to times when we could see that God had been working quietly in the background.
Often described by us – as those times when Gods hand reached out and touched us – without us knowing.
God often works like this- in that before every ‘showing’ there’s a ‘hiding’.
God gets us alone and does a work in us that cannot be accomplished any other way, which is why it is supernatural.
It could be that influencing parent, grandparent, bible in school teacher, or something as simple as that – but part of Gods hand at work.
Secondly: (2) in the verse “He made me into a polished arrow…concealed…in His quiver.”
This refers to an archer who takes a rough tree branch, cuts it down and makes it into a highly polished arrow capable of hitting the mark.
After creating the arrow he puts it into his quiver.
What a wonderful place to be, tied securely to Him, within easy reach when the moment to use us comes.
Such words can make us think differently about being in the shadow.
It may be hard to imagine that God keeps us close, tied securely to him until we are needed. But again God works in ways that we are not always familiar with.
Thirdly: (3) in the words, – “You are my servant…in whom I will display my splendour.”
Sometimes God can use us without us knowing and without Him speaking a word. But when he does its like our life gives off an aroma. Or sometimes our words or actions reveal to others an aspect of God’s love.
Through our influence, through our actions, through our words, others can either be lowered or lifted by what we say or do. As the reading says, we display a splendour that belongs to the Lord.
Also these words could be God saying to us – if we want to have an impact on others then there will be times when we need to embrace the shadows, discover God and grow in them, because when we do – then we emerge with something to say that’s worth listening to! Others can be transformed by God through us. And those shadows can be the times when we feel most vulnerable, alone, isolated and even distanced from God. But again this in itself can be part of the bigger picture that God has for us.
When these words of Isaiah were written, they were directed at a people who have been scattered to the ends of the earth through the exile. They had been greatly traumatized by the unbridled display of imperial power when the mighty Babylonian army destroyed their homes and their holy place, and then forcefully removed thousands of people from their city, taking them into chains to Babylon.
This text assumes the reality of the exiles being displaced and scattered, and now provides them with a new purpose in life, looking beyond their own self-interest and seeing their role as being of service to the many foreigners whom crossed their paths on a daily basis.
We too need to remember that as God’s people we do not exist for ourselves alone, nor is our restoration an end in itself. That is why God gathers God’s people into God’s life for one purpose: the salvation of the world.
And that – God charges Israel, meaning his people, God’s servant, to be “a light to the nations – that his (Gods) salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (verse 6).
God doesn’t get stuck in to the tidy resolutions to our crises that we think end the story.
For example, we often believe that if things turn out okay, the story is over, if the church makes it budget, then “whew, thank God, and that was close!”
If we get through a health scare, we are humbled and grateful.
Yet God is not done. These so-called endings are just the beginning, each a new horizon of possibility. Not for us alone, but for the world God loves.
Restoration of individuals, or churches, or even of an entire people, is never only about that.
God’s healing work moves outward; always expanding toward eschatological fulfilment or as the reading says, – “that my salvation may reach the end of the earth” (verse 6).
So – we can all be chosen, we can all be of use to God, especially as a light to our part of the world, and sometimes even further afield – and the purpose of it all is to honour and highlight the wonder and grace that God has for his world.
The hard part of this passage to comprehend can be verses 4 – which says, “I have laboured to no purpose, or as other translations put it, – in vain, and it also goes on to say, I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing.”
So while the speaker feels greatly disillusioned about the effectiveness of his or her mission so far, and in verse 7 goes on to say that the people as a whole are described as “one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers.”
What the text actually does its best to do is to remind us, the reader that it is God’s presence from before the Servant was even born that this ought to be seen as the source of our strength.
The passage affirms that God is intimately involved in the life of the servant, having artistically formed the servant in the womb (verse 4, See also Jeremiah 1:5; Psalm 139:13).
That God has called the Servant by name while in his mother’s womb (verse 1), together with the final words – that this Servant is indeed chosen by God for this very special life of service. These words remind us that it is God’s presence that will enable the servant to do great things. In verse 2, God alternatively will cause the servant to speak with strength and eloquence (a “strong sword” and a “polished arrow”) as well as hide him away from any harm.
Through the deeds and words of the servant, God’s name will be glorified (verse 3). Isn’t that encouraging for us?
That even though we may feel inadequate, that even though we may be experiencing hardship, and even though we can become obsessed with our own struggle for survival, that we need not be threatened by one’s own experience of vulnerability, but rather to find ways, in order to be a source of comfort and consolation to others, who might be in an equally precarious situation.
This means recognizing and standing with others who are in need of care and comfort, standing with those who are hurting, and breaking the chains of those who are imprisoned by those forces and powers that impinge on people’s basic human rights.
We need to know that even though thousands of years after the original words of this Servant Song were spoken, that God continues to call people to service, called to be leaders in church and society.
The layered nature of the identity of the Servant in this week’s lectionary text, though, suggests that a life of service extends beyond just those who are working in official (ordained) roles but that it is to all committed followers of Christ.
What a difference would this outward-looking mentality make when everyone, regardless of our own trials and tribulations, seeks opportunities to serve one another, to open up the doors of happiness by taking care of the many others with whom we share the world?
Isn’t that the call God gives to all of us – to do as verse 6 instructs – to be “a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth”.